Posts by Celeste Hamilton Dennis

Open question: Should we form a statewide Team?

If this question has been on your mind, it might help to know you’re not alone.

We’ve been noticing some conversation recently about whether or not to combine Teams in some states across the U.S.


Currently, there are 517 Connector Teams in the U.S.
(photo by Tom via Flickr’s Creative Commons)

Connector Jack Lockwood from Georgia—a large state with both urban and rural areas—argues the pros:

By being part of a statewide Team, isolated pockets of people would still get support from each other and still be able to work together on common problems. As a by product, people could get a better idea about issues that impact their whole state and also network with people from other areas but are still passionate about the state they live in.

Another reason to have statewide Teams is that there are people who may volunteer with Idealist but may have jobs or personal connections to other people throughout the state and could work together on advocacy, policy and laws that could impact everyone living in the state.

I think a statewide Team could also help as a strikeforce for local Teams as needed. For example. I have knowledge about writing grants but suppose my local Team does not currently need that skill. By also serving as a resource on a stateside team I would be able help another local state team as needed.

Connector Cindy Matthews from Ohio—a smaller state by comparison—speaks to the cons:

I think the main disadvantages to forming a statewide Team (in Ohio at least) are the differences in the areas/concerns in different parts of the state. Some areas of Ohio are rural and small-town oriented (like where I’m living) and others are metropolitan in their outlook (such as Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, Cincinnati, etc.).

The cultures are different, the economies are different, and the square miles in a rural setting could prevent people from joining a Team because of travel costs/times involved. (Rural gasoline prices tend to be higher, we don’t have public transport, and we’re already forced to drive into cities for our medical appointments, shopping, to find work or attend college, etc.)

Regional Teams (smaller than a state, bigger than one town) possibly are the answer.

Our developers are currently working on offering the ability to consolidate Teams in major metropolitan areas, and exploring more combinations as well.

Before we do anything further, we’d love to hear from you: Does it make sense to merge Teams or stay separate where you live? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Meet a Connector: Elif in Istanbul, Turkey

Connector Elif Soykan has her feet in two worlds: Istanbul and Los Angeles.

She grew up in Turkey, where she studied sociology, but found herself drawn to Hollywood post-graduation where she worked at an advertising agency. Unfulfilled, she returned home after a few years.

Back in Turkey, Elif transferred her love of meeting new people from different cultures and backgrounds into a job as a cross-cultural consultant.

Elif hopes to use this training to its fullest in her new role as a Connector on both the Istanbul and Los Angeles Teams.

“As a cross-cultural trainer and a coach, I believe I can show people how powerful they are, how beautiful they are, and how much value they can bring to life to make it better,” she says.


Elif on her terrace in Istanbul
(photo courtesy Elif Soykan)

Elif naturally connects others in her social circles all the time, but admits that when it comes to herself, one of her weaknesses is asking for help.

With the Idealist Network, she’ll use this focus on others to her advantage and help Istanbul become better connected. There are a lot of nonprofits in the city, but bureaucracy, lack of consensus in organizations, and commitment on behalf of volunteers can be challenging.

Still, Elif is hopeful. Next week she’ll be meeting with another Connector in the city to talk about how they can best pool the city’s resources.

“Sharing is so valuable. I’m afraid that in this new era, we’re losing it,” she says. “This Network gives me hope to unite again for the ultimate goal: make the world a better place.”

Do you live in Istanbul or Los Angeles? Join Elif! Live elsewhere? Look for a Connector Team near you or start one of your own.

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Watch, wait, and iterate!

We love how you’re signing up to be Connectors, chatting away on the Hub, and meeting up to amplify all the good happening in your communities around the world.


So we want to step back for a minute and, first, thank you for being on this journey with us.

Second, we’d like to acknowledge that building a network like this takes time, and we appreciate you sticking with us as we work together to get the model right.

Connector Tessa Hawkins in Melbourne, Australia speaks to the value of being slow and steady:

So I’m a person who usually gets hyper-excited about things and when they don’t all take off at rocket speed I deflate like a balloon.

That will not happen this time!

To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the small number of members that we have in the Melbourne team. But then realised that Idealist needs to grow steadily and consistently, and we as Connectors are responsible for that.

So to achieve this I say our first aim should be consistent growth and patience. That is, start growing those linked into the Network.

We agree, Tessa!

Thanks to all of you again for your patience. We truly couldn’t do this without you.

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Meet a Connector: Nick in Atlanta, Georgia

If there’s one thing Nick Reynolds learned from his time in Peace Corps Ukraine, it’s this: meeting in-person is always a good idea.

“In Ukraine, you only knew something was definitely going to happen when you had that face-to-face meeting. When you looked that other person in the eye and said, ‘This is how it’s going to happen, this is what we’re going to do, right?’ And if they said ‘yes,’ you could count on it,” he says.

As the Community Manager for the Idealist Atlanta local page and a member of the Atlanta Connector Team, Nick has transferred that lesson to meeting in person with local organizations to see what they’re up to and share more about how Idealist can support their work.


The MLK grave site, near the King Center in Atlanta
(image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

His first step is always encouraging employees to create an Idealist profile if they haven’t done so already. And nine times out of ten, they’re likely to pop up on the site if he’s had the opportunity to shake their hand.

He also plants himself at a local cafe each Monday for anyone—organizations, Idealist community members, Connectors—to chat.

“I consider myself to be an involved person. If there’s an opportunity to serve and I can’t come up with a reason not to do it, I’m going to wind up doing it,” he says.

Nick hopes the Idealist Network will help make more in-person connections in Atlanta that will lead to greater resource-sharing among organizations and more people getting involved in the causes they believe in. Living in the birthplace of the civil rights movement, he’d be hard pressed not to.

“[Atlanta] is a beacon of activism,” he says. “You can’t drive through the city without passing something that reminds you that the potential for positive change is here if you just get involved and engaged.”

Do you live in the Atlanta area? Join Nick! Not in Atlanta? Look for a Connector Team near you.

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Field Report! Team meeting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Baton Rouge’s Team may be small, but they have a lot of passion.

The city’s three Connectors, who have backgrounds ranging from global health, information technology, restaurant management, cultural anthropology, and youth development, met last week at a local coffee house to see how they could increase opportunities for action.

“We were all just so happy to connect with others who felt the same as us,” says Connector Karim Johnson.


The State Capitol area in Baton Rouge
(photo courtesy Karim Johnson)

They started with the Three Questions (3Qs) Tool & Tactic, then talked about the skills and resources they each bring to the Team that can help their hometown. Though it covers a large geographical area, Baton Rouge doesn’t have a lot of nonprofits, social enterprises, or community groups.

“The Idealist Network is a highly-needed resource that can act as a catalyst to grow these types of groups so that communities can begin to shape their own change,” Karim says.

The Team’s next steps include defining the Connector role as they want to approach it, encouraging others to join the Network, and getting more people and organizations on Idealist.

They’re also in the early stages of developing their first public meeting and have committed to chatting in-person each week to keep the fire burning.

For Karim and others, the Network comes at an exciting moment in Baton Rouge’s history.

“There are so many young people and so much energy as the city is growing and rejuvenating,” Karim says. “It’s a good time to give people the tools to ensure it grows in a direction they envision.”

If you’re in Baton Rouge, join the Team! If you’re not, look for a Team—or start one—near you. And if you’re not a Connector yet, learn more and sign up here.

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Meet a Connector: Derek in Jérémie, Haiti

Derek Dell loves meeting new people. As an avid backpacker, encountering other travelers thrills him. As does deepening relationships and helping out when needed.

“Once you know someone, connecting becomes easier and more personal,” he says. “If I can help someone with a project, mission, or job, I’m always happy to write an email or make a phone call if I know someone else can contribute.”


Derek in Jérémie
(photo courtesy Derek Dell)

Derek is now settled in Jérémie, Haiti as the Director of Finance at the Haitian Health Foundation. In this context, being a neutral Connector just makes sense.

“When you’re working in a developing country, your mission is always similar to others,” he says. “No one takes sides.”

Jérémie is one of the poorer and more isolated cities in Haiti. Dubbed the “city of poets,” it sits on the lower peninsula of the country and is cut off from the national highway. There are some bigger nonprofits in the area, and a number of smaller ones, and sometimes they work together.

Derek hopes the Idealist Network can add to the existing partnerships, and create new ones. He’s also hoping to meet other like-minded people in the area. His next step? Recruit more members to be on the Team.

“Realists and dreamers are all welcome,” he says. “No ideas are too small or too large.”


If you’re a one person Team, how have you been finding other members? Let us know in the comments!

Do you live in Jérémie or nearby? Join Derek! No? Look for a Connector Team near you.


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Already connecting dots and people? Join us!

Intrigued by the Network, but not sure if you’re a Connector?

We think Amanda from Fayetteville, Arkansas put it just right:

Connectors are important for linking people to organizations and resources that can help them with their goal of making the world a better place.

It’s easy: refer a friend who wants to volunteer, talk to an organization about a similar organization you heard of, share a resource (like a video or book) for how to have a great fundraiser…there are so many quick ways to help people connect.

I’ve already been doing this for years as a “capacity builder” for non-profit organizations, but I look forward to having company here on our team of Connectors!

If you’re thinking, “Yes! This is me!”,  we’d love to have you join us.


Field Report! Team meeting in Silver Spring, Maryland

Last Wednesday, four Connectors met in Silver Spring, Maryland at Ginny’s house for homemade pizza.

The Team included a fiction writer, a PhD student in nonprofit leadership, a former journalist, and a social good consultant.

“It was actually really nice to start with a smaller group and get to know them really well,” says Janice Hepburn, the consultant on the Team. “I think I probably feel better connected to them than I would have if it had been a larger group. We ended up talking for hours and by the end of the night, we were telling jokes and much better connected personally.”

Idealist connector selfie

Connector selfie! From left to right: Drena, Ginny, Janice, and Michael.
(photo courtesy Janice Hepburn.)

By the time the last slice of pizza was finished, the Team had tons of ideas about how to encourage more connections in their community. Here are some of them:

  1. Develop a way for people with new ideas to connect with people who’ve tried similar things before.
  2. Use Idealist as a platform to share knowledge about local resources, funding, people, connections, etc.
  3. Talk with corporations about a potential “Adopt a Nonprofit” program.
  4. Host service fairs at schools so youth can get connected to more volunteer opportunities.

The ideas may be big but their next steps are very doable: figure out whether or not to combine with other Teams in the same county, and get clarity around the upcoming Groups feature and their role in them. (Stay tuned for updates from us in the next few weeks. Here’s our FAQ in the meantime.)

There’s lots more discussion to be had, but for Janice and others, the potential for Silver Spring is limitless.

“Even with just our small group, we were already learning from each other,” Janice says. “Building a network of people to share knowledge, experiences, and tools could be incredibly powerful.”

Interested in what else the Silver Spring Team came up with or want to learn more? Feel free to reach out to Janice. Have ideas of your own to share? Let us know in the comments!

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Meet a Connector: Adam in Bozeman, Montana

Adam Poeschl is a middle child. It’s partly the reason he signed up to be a Connector.

“I’m pretty good at staying neutral about things,” the Bozeman, Montana local says. “I grew up having to be the diplomat between us [brothers].”

The other reason is that he’s already helping plug people in to the resources in their community as an Americorps VISTA volunteer at the Human Resource Development Council of District IX. With the Idealist Network, he’ll be taking those skills one step further.

“There are a lot of people who lie in bed at night thinking about how to make the world a better place. But they have no idea how to take action,” he says. “What I’m really excited about is facilitating an easy way for people to start.”


Gallatin Valley in Bozeman, Montana—known for Montana State University,
world-class skiing, and the great outdoors.
(photo courtesy Adam Poeschl.)

Adam’s experienced this firsthand: when he became interested in nonprofits, he had no idea where to begin to look for ways to get involved. Bozeman has an active volunteer community, but many of the more visible opportunities with food banks and mentoring organizations quickly get snapped up. It took him six months to get a volunteer gig shelving books at the library.

“I think a network like Idealist can help lay out all the other agencies and opportunities in town that people didn’t even know existed,” he says.

Now, as a Connector, he’ll start by calling nonprofits in Bozeman to suggest they create a profile on Idealist. He’ll also be thinking about how else he can pass on good information.

“I’m easy to talk to. I don’t get overly worked up over things. I’m a good co-conspirator,” he says. “And I’m good at getting things moving, but I don’t like to steal people’s thunder.”

Do you live in the Bozeman area? Join Adam. Not in Bozeman? Look for a Connector Team near you.

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Maryland’s Connector Team: ‘Party at Ginny’s house!’

Connectors in Silver Spring, Maryland are meeting at Ginny Hillhouse’s home this Wednesday to eat homemade pizza and talk about how they can better their city and surrounding areas.

They’ll be doing so around Ginny’s dining room table, which she expanded from five to seven feet a couple of years ago so it could fit up to 16 people.

There’s hardly room to walk around it but Ginny doesn’t care. “I just really love to get people around the table,” she says. “There’s something about sharing food and drinks that helps people to be relaxed and open with each other.”


Ginny’s table, which she admits looks smaller in the photo than it actually is.
(photo courtesy Ginny Hillhouse)

Recently, her table has been the gathering spot for neighbors during a particularly bad snowstorm and a local group working on reducing highway noise. And now, she’s adding Connectors to that list.

“I don’t want to be by myself doing good work. I want to be with everyone else doing good work,” she says.

For Ginny, who opened up her home without hesitation, creating a Team seemed like a no-brainer.

A former journalist and current marketing specialist who’s involved in a range of community work—from taking care of sick neighbors, to working for decades with her PTA, to organizing an arts and crafts festival every winter—connecting is just what she does now. Though it hasn’t always been this way.

“Although I started out as an aggressive seeker of truth and action, I’ve evolved into a continuous nurturer and facilitator. I’m so thankful for this new Idealist Network because Ami’s philosophy seems so similar to mine,” she says.

Good luck with the meeting, Ginny! We look forward to hearing more!

Interested in hosting a Team meeting in your area? Sign up as a Connector here.